On Monday when I picked Beanie up from daycare, I walked into the nursery and all of the lights were turned off. The room was empty, except for Beanie and his teacher. They were sitting in a rocking chair. Beanie was all bent over and staring at the wall. His teacher was rocking him, wild-eyed, and patting his bottom.
It was a strange scene.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“They are in the other room,” the teacher said in a whisper.
So I lowered my voice to a whisper, too. “Well, what’s going on in here?”
“This is the only thing I could do to get him to stop crying this afternoon,” she said. And after a pause she added, “We really need to talk.”
So, I took a seat on the floor next to Beanie and listened as his teacher described Beanie’s recent behavior at daycare. He was crying to be held all the time. If they put him down, he yelled. And if they dared to pick up another baby, well, he flipped his little self out.
As I listened to all of this, I started flashing back to events over the past few weeks at our house. I remembered all those times Beanie would start crying bloody murder and when I reached to pick him up, he’d stop crying all of a sudden and break into a laugh. And I remembered him crying every time I got up from where he was playing to go answer the phone or let the dogs out or flip through the mail. Visions of Beanie throwing tiny little temper tantrums every time he was left alone floated through my brain.
And then more visions followed. Visions of me going to Beanie every, single time he cried and picking him up. Visions of me trying to pack a diaper bag, my lunch, Beanie’s bottles, in the morning all while toting Beanie around on my hip in order to keep him from crying. Visions of me PULLING THE CAR OVER ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD to soothe Beanie when he was crying in his car seat.
All of these things flooded my brain as I listened to Beanie’s teacher describe the behavior of a spoiled child. And then I realized what was going on.
I had spoiled Beanie.
Spoiled him rotten.
But how could this have happened? I cannot stand a spoiled child. It never even occurred to me that I could even have a spoiled child because I was so adamantly against it. Beanie would never be the center of attention. He would never be controlling. Or manipulative. Or any of those terrible things that spoiled children are. He was my son. And I would not spoil him.
And yet here we were, four months into the game, and I’m being held after school to talk about MY CHILD’s behavior.
Of course, his teacher would never have come right out and called him spoiled and when she spoke to me, she did it in a spirit of collaboration. It felt more like she was wanting us to talk about how WE could fix this, instead of blaming me or expecting me to correct the problem on my own. She suggested that at school and at home, when he starts fussing and we know that everything else is okay – he’s full, he’s changed, he’s rested – we should let him fuss for about 10 minutes to see if he can learn to entertain or soothe himself. I told her that that sounded like a good idea and I thanked her for talking to me about it before the daycare started taking any kind of action. At the end of the day, he is my son and parenting techniques should come from the parents. But I so appreciated that she took the time to talk to me about it.
And then, mortified, I grabbed the diaper bag, lowered my head, and carried Beanie out the door.
“Come on, BEAN,” I said. Beanie, of course, was all smiles now.
On my way home as I listened to Beanie babbling in his car seat, I tried to understand how this had happened. Its not so much the issue that bothered me – I mean, he’s only four months old. Its not like he’s scarred for life. But it was how this even became an issue when I had made such an effort to avoid this. I KNOW you aren’t supposed to pick a baby up every time they cry. I KNOW they have to learn how to be by themselves and self-soothe.
So how had I messed up?
Well, for one thing, Beanie is only four months old. I really didn’t think we had to worry about holding him too much right now because I didn’t think he was old enough to manipulate us.
(That’s right, Beanie. I said manipulate, you stink pot.)
But when I said this to Beanie’s teacher, she just started laughing. “Oh, honey,” she said. “Babies are born manipulators!” It was so harsh, but so true. At the ripe old age of four months old, Beanie had already learned that if he started fussing, Mom and Dad would come get him. Or play with him. Or move him somewhere else. Or whatever he wanted.
Chris and I had become pawns. Peons. Suckers.
WELL, NO MORE, BEANIE! NO MORE!
Aside from the age thing though, there is the guilt. (sigh) I’m learning that 90% of what motivates mothers is guilt. Maybe even 95%. I feel guilty that I don’t seem him all day long and so when I get home from work and have only about two hours with him before bedtime, I don’t want anything to go wrong. I want him to love being with me. I want him to love being with me more than he loves being at daycare. So, I hold him. And I jump when he cries. And I carry him around on my hip. I do anything it takes to make sure that those two hours are the happiest hours of his day.
(P.S. I just started crying on my keyboard. Oh, Parenting, why are you so darn hard?)
(P.S.S. I just found a Hershey kiss in my desk drawer, so I feel better now.)
So, this week, Chris and I have really been working on it at home. I’m learning so much now. Picking up Beanie is actually taking the easy way out. When he starts fussing now, I still go sit with him, but I don’t pick him up. I play with him or I talk to him instead and usually he settles right back down. Sometimes, I don’t even go to him. I just let him fuss around for a couple minutes and before I know it, he’s found his foot or something and life is grand again.
Tuesday was the first day back at daycare after The Talk and for the first time since Beanie’s first week at daycare, I cried on my way to work. I mean, its one thing to parent Beanie at home, but its another to feel like someone ELSE will be parenting him during the day. Even if his teachers are wonderfully sweet people and even if I know they certainly aren’t going to be any less attentive to him than they always are, it still burned just a little bit that it wouldn’t be ME working with him.
(P.S. I’m crying again.)
(P.S.S. I just found a Jolly Rancher in my desk drawer, so I feel better now.)
(P.S.S.S. I really need to clean out my desk drawer.)
After the sadness of dropping Beanie off passed, I started thinking about how glad I was that he was in daycare. Isn’t that a funny contradiction? I hate that someone else spends so much time with him during the day, but I also love the fact that someone else knows him ALMOST as well as I do. Its especially nice because I live so far away from my family to have someone be able to say to me, “Here, let’s work on this together.” Suddenly, it didn’t feel like just me and Chris against the world, but more like we had a team to help us out.
What’s that saying? It takes a village? Well, I think sometimes it takes a daycare.